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R’ Abraham Joshua Heschel begins God in Search of Man with the following words:


It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – its message becomes meaningless.

    Religion is an answer to man’s ultimate questions….There are dead thoughts and there are living thoughts. A dead thought has been compared to a stone which one may plant in the soil. Nothing will come out. A living thought is like a seed. In the process of thinking, an answer without a question is devoid of life. It may enter the mind; it will not penetrate the soul. It may become part of one’s knowledge; it will not come forth as a creative force.

In the Talmud Tractate of Derek Eretz Zuta, we find inspiration for living in a way that opens us to receive the miracle of each moment. Jewish spirituality includes a desire to honor life, to be awake to its possibilities, to cherish the ordinary until we see its beauty, to be amazed by the leaves on the trees, the sound of rain, the eyes of another person, the food we eat, the intricacies of our bodies, the magnificence of the solar system. You know how small children have the capacity to be awed by the ordinary? As we grow older, we tend to forget how to see, and can become entrenched in patterns that blind us to the total mind-blowing coolness of existence. Judaism as a spiritual practice teaches us to remain present and receptive.

We also find in Derek Eretz a discussion of core values that highlight what we owe to each other as a society, including beliefs about such concerns as worker’s rights, freedom of religion, and responsible stewardship of the environment. The book Great is Peace: A Modern Commentary on Talmud Bavli Tractate Derek Eretz Zuta, which I co-authored with Rabbi Dr. Arthur Segal, provides a complete translation of this important tractate along with a line-by-line explanation of the text in contemporary language. (Because we are so far removed in time from the circumstances of the people who wrote it, it is helpful to be able to identify parallels with modern technology and customs, so that is what we tried to do.)

Some of the values that liberal Jews tend to hold, even if unaware of the exact origins of these ideas, appear in Derek Eretz as follows:

    Be a good merchant, pay well, and strive always to do good….Our business ethics never say caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, but lifne iver, don’t put a stumbling block before the blind.


    Love all creatures, and respect them….Jewish law requires us to prevent tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures.


    Love doubtfulness (i.e. everything shall be doubtful to you until you convince yourself of it)….The love of doubtfulness – the love of critical thinking – leads us to the love of study.


    Nine entered the Garden of Eden when they were still alive….Six of those allowed to enter Paradise were neither Hebrew nor Jewish. Two were converts. Three were ba’alim teshuvah. “The righteous of all nations [religions] have a share in the world to come” (Sanhedrin 105a).


    Let your accounts always be correct, and your conduct excellent. Keep your promise….We must not relate to other human beings as if they are vehicles or obstacles to our goals.


    Love righteousness….”Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (Deut. 16:20). The Talmud explains that the first tzedek teaches us to judge by the letter of the law, and the second reminds us to live by the spirit of the law (Shnay Luchot HaBrit, Shoftim 101a.)


    Seek peace, and pursue it….The pursuit of peace and justice are not time-bound [as are other commandments]. In places without them, we work to establish a peaceful and just environment.

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 10:32 AM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  just wanted to say (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Navy Vet Terp, davidseth, mayim

    I'm happy about the outcome of the election. Obama is still our president, gay marriage was upheld in Washington State, and I think it's a good thing that we decriminalized marijuana (because why send people to jail over pot? Not worth the expense, hassle, and misery, in my opinion.) One odd turn of events was the approval of charter schools, which I opposed because I think the public school system should get the funding it needs, and people with money can already send their kids to private school, you know? But overall, I must say I am relieved.


    How was your election day?

    •  Here in Maryland (3+ / 0-)

      Marriage equality and the Dream Act survived the referendums that had resulted from the Republican petitioning drives after these measures had passed the legislature.  Not too happy about the expansion of gambling, with poker tables and the like at gambling casinos, combined by a massive tax reduction for the casino operators.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 10:57:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  what's the rationale (0+ / 0-)

        for a tax reduction for casino operators? is that like a tourism thing, or what?

        •  To buy them off (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bluebird of happiness, mayim

          The measure authorizes building a gambling casino in National Harbor off the Washington Beltway on the Potomac opposite Alexandria, Virginia.  This is a new development of fancy hotels and restaurants - I've had some conferences there for work.  The casino will have poker and roulette and other live gambling things in addition to slots.

          To buy off the owners of the newly opened slot machine casinos at Arundel Mills halfway between Baltimore and Washington (the owner is a distant cousin of my wife but she has never met him), at Perryville halfway between Baltimore and Philadelphia, and a new casino they will be building in downtown Baltimore near the football stadium, these casinos will also have "gaming tables" and all are getting a tax reduction to buy them off from opposing the ballot question.  Otherwise they would have opposed it.

          Casinos and slots were illegal in Maryland before the voters approved it in a referendum in 2008 - I voted no then and voted no yesterday.

          The four casino companies, combined with the owner of the casino in Charlestown West Virginia who ran "anti" ads, spent more money combined on TV ads than Obama-Romney and the LGBT Marriage pro and antis combined, more money on this one question than ever spent in a Maryland election.  There was a pro or anti ad every TV commercial break.  It was really sickening.

          PS, the Talmud actually denounces gambling - a dice player may not testify as a witness.  Sanhedrin 24b.  In the Gemara on this Mishnah, the rabbis disagree whether this applies to occasional gamblers or just to professional gamblers who earn their livlihood this way.

          "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

          by Navy Vet Terp on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 11:57:31 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think I know that quote (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Navy Vet Terp, mayim

            Or similar concept - someone who races pigeons is forbidden to serve as a witness in a trial, I think. (I should know, considering the thousand or so hours I put into the book, but with my ADHD brain, tend not to remember anything that isn't right in front of me, even if it's something I came up with myself. So it goes.)

            I don't like gambling or casino environments either, so I can appreciate the desire to not have those sorts of establishments in your area. The energy around those places bothers me. Some casinos out here are owned and run by Native American tribes, which adds another wrinkle to the question. In general, environments that encourage addictive behavior seem to me to not be such a great idea. Some might argue it's a form of entertainment - but not one I'd personally choose.

            Related to the addiction issue is, of course, drug abuse - but in the case of the marijuana laws, while I personally don't like to be around people who are high, don't think it's worth jailing people over, just as we're not jailing people for gambling. One of my co-workers has been joking, in the wake of the legalization result, about running out to 7-11 for a bag of weed and a burrito - meanwhile, my 13 year old son has announced that he thinks the legalization of marijuana "will ruin a lot of lives" which, unbeknownst to him, struck me as somewhat amusing, in light of the social atmosphere when I was that age. The one issue I have about it is how can they possibly tell if someone is under the influence of marijuana while driving a car - there's no breathalyzer test for cannabis.

            •  It's still illegal under federal law (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Federal law preempts conflicting state law.  When George I was president, Attorney General John Ashcroft went out of his way to prosecute medical marijuana store owners and medical marijuana suppliers in states that had legalized medical marijuana (I think one was yours?).

              There are no Native American tribal areas in Maryland.  All these casinos are owned by greedy businessmen and corporations.  They promised the tax receipts would go to schools.  I don't see where the education budget has increased, and I think it is immoral to support our children this way.  We can't pay tax money for our childrens' education?

              "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

              by Navy Vet Terp on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 03:57:34 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  what does that mean (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Navy Vet Terp

                How common is it (other than in the case of marriage equality) for Federal laws to conflict with State laws and what are the practical ramifications - what does that really mean in terms of how the law is enforced? That exact reason was given by those who opposed legalization, but without an explanation of what it would mean in practical terms.

                In my opinion, the wealthiest people in the U.S. should be required to pay income tax at the rate they were doing in the 1950s or 1960s, which I believe was approximately 50%. Sounds like a lot, unless you've already got billions. We are in a situation analogous to a room full of kids, wherein one out of a thousand has a whole bowl of Cheerios, and the other 999 only have one Cheerio each. This is bullshit.

                Anyway, I agree, it is immoral to support public education with the profits from gambling casinos (in effect, harming adults and justifying it by claiming it will help children).

              •  as to the store owners (0+ / 0-)

                I sort of vaguely remember that medical marijuana suppliers were experiencing some problems, and residents were complaining about where to allow those establishments to operate and not wanting them to advertise (why couldn't they make marijuana available through any pharmacy?)... but the issue hasn't been high on my list of concerns, because I don't use it, don't enjoy being around people when they are using, and am not qualified to make medical decisions for anyone. Washington, Oregon, and California seem to have been the big three states where legalization comes up most frequently.

                The reasons in the "statement for" and "statement against" materials on this most recent vote were not convincing because nobody explained how it was really going to work. If you could be prosecuted, that's different from saying you would be prosecuted, or by whom, and who would care, and when would they care. I think it is still illegal to grow marijuana - this law may only address penalties for possession.

                Keeping marijuana illegal means we can't grow hemp in the U.S., which is a fast-growing "rapidly renewal resource" that could be used to make fabric and other materials useful in the construction industry. And, based on the anecdotal evidence, rampant illegal drug trafficking and related violence could be prevented if there were not so much money involved. There seems to be a kind of Orwellian fun-house mirror effect, where the anti-drug laws contribute to the perpetuation of violence, limited resources, poor public health outcomes, etc. If the law causes more problems than it solves, even if the intention behind it is good, how can it be a good law? Similar situation with the issue of prostitution.

                I'm not psychic and don't pretend to know what would happen, but I do think that what people fear would happen and what would actually happen if marijuana (and/or other drugs) were legalized may well be two very different things. Most decisions like this are made for emotional reasons (quite possibly legitimately grounded in direct personal experience) but it would be interesting to try to step back to a systems-theory level view and see where the stuff comes from and where it goes and who gets it there and where the money goes and what encourages drug abuse in the first place, and so on, not in terms of finding someone to prosecute but just to see why the drug problem is so big, and how it gets that real solutions are probably best going to be found at that level.


                •  I was a deputy DA in the 80's (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  bluebird of happiness

                  And prosecuted plenty of DUI cases, most of which I lost because the judge excused everyone who said they didn't like people drunk or even just driving drunk, so I was left with the town drunks for my juries.  If the police see someone driving eratically, they have probable cause to stop the vehicle.  If the person is slurred of speech or smells like booze or otherwise appears intoxicated, the police have probable cause to require the driver to leave the vehicle and the police will then perform roadside tests -touching finger to the nose, and examining the pupils which act a certain way - I forget - when the person is intoxicated.  If the driver flunks the roadside tests, the police have probable cause to take the driver to the stationhouse for the driver's choice of a blood alcohol or breath test.  I have no idea how this would work on people high on marijuana.

                  Maryland is known as the Free State.  I learned this in the first grade but the teacher never said why.  The reason why is that Governor Albert Ritchie announced when Prohibition went into effect that the state and local police would not enforce Prohibition, if the Feds wanted to do so OK but the state and local police would not cooperate.

                  "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

                  by Navy Vet Terp on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 01:48:51 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  that's interesting (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Navy Vet Terp

                    My husband once was "excused" from a drunk driving case because he expressed the opinion that how drunk someone was could be affected by their body weight and whether or not they'd eaten before drinking, not just the quantity of alcohol they'd consumed.

                    I've been called over half a dozen times in my life and have been "excused" every single time, without even trying, and often just on sight. I'm quite certain that I will never be impaneled, no matter how many more times I am called in. It's not that I want to be on a jury - but I can't help wondering what it is about me that so freaks out the attorneys that they can't wait to get me out of the room. Is it the horns growing out of my head? The third eye?

                    It's hard to trust the selection process (and hence the system) because there's no way of knowing what they are basing their decisions on.

                    Washington still has capital punishment - people who don't believe in capital punishment are not allowed on cases with the death penalty. So maybe not letting anyone but town drunks on a jury would reflect a similar logic. Here, it seems more likely they'd only accept teetotalers.

                    They always want yes or no answers to questions that don't have yes or no answers (unless you're a moron.)

                    In any event, I read an interesting study that shows that people tend to make more accurate decisions on their own than they do in groups, so maybe the jury system itself could be improved upon - for example, by keeping all of the jurors separated and not letting them discuss the case with each other.

                    •  Good idea... (0+ / 0-)

                      Having once served on a jury, I think that your idea of a having jurors make independent decisions had a lot of merit!

                      •  it's not my idea (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Old Iowa Liberal

                        It's from a psychological study I read about in the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking:

                        In 2005 an Emory University neuroscientist named Gregory Berns and his team recruited thirty-two volunteers, men and women between the ages of nineteen and forty-one. The volunteers played a game in which each group member was shown two three-dimensional objects on a computer screen and asked to decide whether the first object could be rotated to match the second. The experimenters used an fMRI scanner to take snapshots of the volunteers' brains as they conformed to or broke with group opinion....When the volunteers played the game on their own, they gave the wrong answer only 13.8 percent of the time. But when they played with a group whose members gave unanimously wrong answers, they agreed with the group 41 percent of the time....When the volunteers played alone, the brain scans shows activity in a network of brain regions including the occipital cortex and parietal cortex, which is associated with conscious decision-making. But when they went along with their group's wrong answer....the conformists showed less brain activity in the frontal, decision-making regions and more in the areas of the brain associated with perception....If the group thinks the answer is A, you're much more likely to believe that A is correct, too. It's not that you're saying consciously, "Hmm, I'm not sure, but they all think the answer's A, so I'll go with that." Nor are you saying, "I want them to like me, so I'll just pretend the answer's A."....Most of Bern's volunteers reported having gone along with the group because "they thought that they had arrived serendipitously at the same correct answer"....[the ones who didn't conform] sometimes picked the right answer despite their peers' influence....these moments...were linked to heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with upsetting emotions such as the fear of rejection....
                        The point being that this is something the social brain is hard-wired to do, whether people intend for it to happen or not.

                        Some years before reading about this study, I was on a mock jury, where I noticed that one opinionated, vocal person swayed the entire room. It is often the case that loquacious people are perceived of as having more credibility. And I know that if people say something often enough, more and more will believe it, even if it violates the laws of physics.

            •  blood tests or urine screens (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bluebird of happiness

              reveal active cannabinol and metabolites. metabolites don't tell you much except for use in the past 30 days.

              Please read and enjoy my novella, Tulum, available in soft cover and eBook formats.

              by davidseth on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 06:14:13 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  what about prescription medication (0+ / 0-)

                You know how some employers require drug screening? Some people take prescription drugs that will show up on a drug test, and then, if they want to work, need to relinquish their privacy and provide copies of their medical records or a doctor's signature.

                It is not the end of the world, but having to do that for a traffic stop would feel invasive and/or humiliating - not that all traffic stops are not already a bad experience.

                If they can't tell that someone's been using today as opposed to last week, testing would be a bit pointless, and / or, there would be opportunities to abuse any suspect.

  •  This is really well put: (3+ / 0-)
    Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.
    I think when people reject their religion for secular thought, or for another faith -- or, come to think of it, when people reject secular thought for religion -- what they are really doing is rejecting a dead thought for a living one.  When one's religion is a living thought and some other living thought comes along, one is much likelier to reach for some form of syncretism; some way of reconciling the two, of making them work in harmony.

    It probably goes without saying that the same thought can be dead to one individual and alive to another.

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